The highly religious leanings of many members of the incoming presidential administration and Congress have forced FFRF to get out in front of the issues and nominations to try to quell some of the potentially catastrophic appointments and decisions. (See page 9 for more details about Donald Trump's appointees.) FFRF has taken a proactive approach by sending letters to the specific committees in charge of vetting the nominees.
In a Jan. 9 letter to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, FFRF urged them to ask attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions some pointed and specific questions. The U.S. senator from Alabama has called the separation between religion and government a "recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional."
He has also reportedly stated, "If you have secularization in the world and don't believe in a higher being, maybe you don't believe there is any truth."
FFRF asked the Judiciary Committee to put before Sessions the following five questions:
1. As attorney general, would you uphold our nation's proud secular tradition of separating religion from government?
2. Is it your belief that religious free exercise is limited to the freedom to believe and worship as one chooses? Or do you propose that free exercise also includes the freedom to act as one's religion demands, even if such actions might curtail the civil rights of others, or run contrary to the law?
3. Is it your contention that not believing in a god makes someone an undesirable citizen or categorically unfit to serve in public office or other positions of public trust?
4. As attorney general, will you defend the constitutional rights of Americans, including public officials, to choose to affirm, rather than swearing religious oaths?
5. As attorney general would you defend the law of the land even when it conflicts with your personal religious beliefs? Or do you believe that it is the role of the attorney general to reinterpret our country's laws from his or her own personal religious perspective?
Not vouching for DeVos
On Jan. 12, FFRF sent a letter to the members of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, requesting them to ask Betsy DeVos the following seven questions during her confirmation hearing to become secretary of education.
1. Would you uphold the right of states to abide by their constitutions and limit funding to religious schools?
2. Why shouldn't private schools continue to be privately funded? Why should all taxpayers shoulder the burden of a dual education system?
3. Religion and freedom flourishes under our constitutional separation of state and church. Given this history, how can you then propose taxing citizens to support religious education?
4. You are a lobbyist for publicly paid vouchers. If you were confirmed as secretary of education, would it not be tantamount to the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coop?
5. What measures would you take to ensure that schools that receive public money are accountable to taxpayers?
6. Do you believe that elementary and secondary schools that receive public money should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of disability, religion, or sexual orientation?
7. Will you advocate for teaching genuine science in all public-supported schools and oppose the teaching of unscientific and untestable religious opinions in the science curriculum?
Picking Carson's brain
FFRF told the Senate that it needed to closely scrutinize Dr. Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary nominee, on how his zealotry might affect his leadership.
FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote a letter on Jan. 12 to the members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs about Carson's religious bias possibly interfering with his supervision of HUD.
In the letter, Gaylor and Barker said that Carson should be asked: "Will you commit to HUD serving all Americans equally and without discrimination, regardless of their religion or lack thereof?"
Carson also claims there is "no conflict" between "God's law" and the laws of the United States. FFRF advised the committee to therefore inquire: "If there is a conflict between the law and your religion, for instance, if your office were required to extend housing to a gay couple, would you be able to uphold the law?"
On Dec. 22, FFRF also sent out a statement telling Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to not appoint Roy Moore to fill the state's open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sessions after he was nominated by Trump to be attorney general. Moore is the suspended chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
"It is outrageous that Moore is even in the running for representing the state of Alabama in this country's foremost legislative body," FFRF's statement read. "An incorrigible evangelical Christian theocrat, he has a terrible record."